Zoe Reid, 30, is a self-employed gardener. She lives in Wellington with her seven-year-old daughter.
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I started gardening because I wanted to see if I could make a difference to anything in the world. When my daughter was about 18-months-old I was going through a Family Court process and I felt very isolated. I lived in a flat with a huge, completely overgrown garden with waist-high weeds everywhere. My flatmate had clinical depression and was scared to leave the house, and my child was having a nap time every day, so going out to the garden was literally the only thing we could do.
I had no idea what I was doing at the start. When a friend of mine's mum saw what I was doing she took me straight to Bunnings and spent $400 on everything I needed. I said, 'I don't know why you're doing this, because everything I plant seems to die, or the slugs eat it'. She just laughed and said, 'every gardener thinks that'. It was a lightbulb moment to realise that my problems in the garden were the same as everyone else's, which meant that the internet could tell me everything.
It was so transformational to watch this garden evolve. I started by growing tomatoes, but it didn't go very well. They stayed green and the leaves all curled up and died. I spent some time trying to find out what you did with green tomatoes because I didn't want to give up. It was very much like a therapy thing. Gardening taps into everything so quickly, doesn't it? Every season, every weather change, the garden is doing something else. I can't recommend it enough.
Doing it as a job hasn't taken any of the joy out of it. I started working as a gardener when my daughter was about four. I was looking after a little girl and getting paid $7 an hour, so I was earning $200 a week and barely feeding myself. Someone offered me $20 an hour to work as a gardener, but then she didn't have any hours for me. I went to a bigger gardening company but they didn't have much for me either. It was a nightmare. Then, one of the clients for the big company asked me to work for him and it just grew from there. It was phenomenal. I didn't realise that mostly people just want someone who is reliable and kind and who turns up. A lot of my clients were elderly and they were more than happy to tell me anything I didn't know. The learning process was amazing.
Every now and then, especially if it's really windy, I don't feel like getting out there, but that's usually a mood thing. As soon as I go and do it, I feel better. The only thing is that on my days off I want to be in my own garden.
I hate the whole attitude that 'if you just tried harder you would be happy'. I think that's total rubbish. But I do think you do have to learn how to balance everything in your life so you can actually enjoy the things that you enjoy. My life is very chaotic; having a child and coming from a place where I don't have much money means there's always something big going on. I don't always find the joy in life. But that's probably why I love gardening so much.
You've got to learn what makes you happy and I don't think that's valued enough in our society. In Bhutan, they measure wealth in happiness. If we saw life like that we would be working hard to find out what makes us happy and how we can incorporate it best in our lives. I have never found anything close to the joy that I get from being in a garden, but that's not something I was born with. I had to find it.
As told to Lucy Corry.
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